The Bush Administration named the polar bear to the “threatened species” list based on computer predictions of the anticipated loss of sea ice due to global warming Tuesday.
“Computer models predict sea ice is likely to recede in the future,” said Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. “They [polar bears] are in my judgment likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, in this case 45 years.”
Kempthorne used a series of slides showing images of decrease polar sea ice while making his announcement. They are available here.
The polar bear’s classification as “threatened” is a step below “endangered”—a classification which would trigger massive environmental protections that would prevent energy and oil exploration in Alaska.
Officials said an “endangered” listing could not be made because there was not enough scientific evidence that greenhouse gas emissions where causing the sea ice to melt.
Kempthorne said, “Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use of the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources.”
To prevent the environmental lobby from using this listing as a means to prevent domestic energy development Kempthorne proposed a rule to allow this type of activity in the area if it is permissible under standards dictated by the Mammal Protection Act.
This rule has not been adopted.
This decision was spurred by The Center for Biological Diversity, a group that sued the Department of Interior, along with Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to make a decision about listing the polar bear as “endangered” based on global warming concerns. The environmental lobby argues global warming has melted sea ice that polar bears walk on when hunting seals. Less ice, their logic follows, exposes the bears to drowning, cannibalism and starvation.
Their complaints come as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services reports the polar bear population is on the rise. FWS estimates there are currently 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears, up from a record-low population of 5,000 to 10,000 in the 1950’s and 1960’s